SOUTH ORANGE – In a weird way, Seton Hall’s apparent hosing by the NCAA selection committee fits right into this season’s plot.
Seeded sixth in the Denver pod after being a projected seven-seed prior to beating a pair of two-seeds in Xavier and Villanova this week, the Hall will clash with the second consecutive mid-major powerhouse in Gonzaga on Thursday night at 9:57 et; the Pirates took on Wichita State in the first round back in 2006.
The Pirates have surpassed every expectation that has been thrown at them this season, whether it be the pre-season rankings, post-season chances, or Big East Tournament odds, so it makes sense that they got handed the short end of stick on Selection Sunday.
“I’m excited,” said Kevin Willard while penned in by a deep crowd of media at Walsh Gym. “ I thought maybe we could have gotten a little bit of a lower seed considering we just beat the No. 3 team [Villanova] the No. 5 team [Xavier] and the No. 5 team [Xavier on Senior Day] and we’re playing really well.
“But a six-seed is great at the beginning of the year, so we’ll take it. We’ve got a big challenge with Gonzaga, but just being in it gives you a chance.”
Many people are considering Seton Hall’s pairing with the Bulldogs to be a major slight by the committee considering where they were being projected going into the Big East Tournament and the fact that just two KenPom spots separate the Hall from the WCC champs.
The seeding begs the question of whether the committee has even watched what the Pirates have done of late.
“I would probably say they didn’t, based on where we are [seeded],” said Isaiah Whitehead. “But as long as we’re there and we have a chance to compete in this famous tournament, it’s a blessing.”
Whitehead, as you’ll remember, was critical of where Seton Hall was being projected weeks ago, so tonight’s outcome will surely only fuel the motivational fire.
Besides the seemingly low-ball seed, Seton Hall also had to wait 10 years plus the entire two-hour nightmare of a selection show just to see their name announced.
“I’ve waited 10 years for this, so I can wait a little bit longer,” joked an ecstatic assistant coach and former Pirate center Grant Billmeier during the early part of the selection show.
“I was talking to Khadeen [Carrington] and said ‘Wow, imagine if we didn’t win yesterday?’” added Whitehead. “That would have been really really nerve-racking waiting this long.”
“It wasn’t as bad because I knew we were in,” said Willard. “If we hadn’t been in, it would have been agony. My heart was popping. It’s exciting. The kids are excited, the fan base is excited and that’s what it’s all about.”
The bracket took so long to get released that the players even got word of who they were playing well ahead of the live announcement; all were on their phones checking if it was true.
“Actually when Iowa State was called one of our managers told us it was leaked and who we were playing,” recalled Whitehead. “So that’s why we were kind of on the edge of our seats, we knew it was coming.”
For Seton Hall, the focus now turns to Thursday night in Denver
“They’re tremendous offensively, they pass the ball [well], unselfish,” said Willard of Mark Few’s team. “I watched them earlier in the year, they’re a terrific basketball team so it’s going to be a great challenge.”
And also get some rest after an unforgettable 72-plus hours.
“I have not [slept],” said Willard. “I’m not going to lie, I haven’t slept since uhh — today’s Sunday. We beat Xavier… so since Thursday.”